By Glenn Martin
John Wesley said some last words to those brave souls setting out across a dangerous ocean to a young country beyond the horizons of England. Mr. Wesley knew that these pioneer preachers were risking their lives and trusting in God for survival. He wanted to give focus and purpose and urgency to their divine mission. His parting words to them were and are the key to Christian ministry from Pentecost to and through the 21st Century.
“Offer them Christ” was the Methodist theme for the frontiers of America. From horseback and field and brush arbor and log cabin the circuit riders offered them Christ. Is not that the motivation for all Christian missions? Is that not the primary goal of every church and preacher and Christian in today’s secular world?
People were drawn like metal to a magnet to the proclamation of one who could sacrifice his own life for the sins of all. Anticipation of new birth and new life and hope of heaven permeated the atmosphere when these men of God held up the Bible and presented Jesus the Christ. Invitations and conversions and the planting of new churches inevitably resulted.
Methodism grew up with America and gave birth to a church in every county in this young nation. Leadership was mostly in the hands and hearts of those of the laity (lay preachers) who had limited formal education. They simply “offered them Christ.”
In my work as a part time hospice chaplain, a patient was referred to me after telling the visiting nurse that he had no church, had not been baptized and did not plan to be. “I’m going out just like I am,” he said.
After eight months and some 16 brief visits, I said, “Sir, if Jesus knocked on your door today, would you let him in?” He replied, “I would let him in, sit in his lap and hug his neck.” The patient was born of the spirit that day and died within the month.
He was not converted to real faith by being convinced that the church was holy, or the preacher was smart or the scripture was word perfect. He was simply offered Christ — and he accepted him and invited him into his home and heart.
The assumption that those to whom we preach are all Christians over whom we could do a nice eulogy is a grave mistake. Universalism, absolute predestination or lukewarm Christianity can sterilize our preaching and personal witness. The fruits of the spirit are not a product of academics or philosophies. They are produced by the Christ who has been invited in and given total priority.
Nicodemus said, “Can I be born again when I am old?” Even old church members can be born again, and many will be if we “offer them Christ.” Wesley’s words can again be our theme.
Martin is a retired clergy member of the Mississippi Conference and a regular contributor to the “Advocate.”